Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli is a life-long United Methodist who is passionate about sharing the
good news of God’s liberating love in Jesus Christ.
In 2014, she became the first woman to serve as Senior Pastor of historic Foundry UMC in Washington, DC. Since Ginger’s appointment, Foundry has re-energized its work for racial justice, become a founding member of the Sanctuary DMV movement, and created a Sacred Resistance Ministry Team to mobilize consistent action in response to troubling current events.
A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Ginger has served a variety of congregations: small and large, urban and suburban in the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, in addition to an uptown Manhattan and two-point charge in the New York Annual Conference. Ginger has served the Baltimore Washington Conference as Chair of the Board of Discipleship and currently serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry. In addition, she has served as an elected delegate to the 2016 General Conference and the 2019 Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
For over 20 years as a pastor-theologian, her ministry has encouraged spiritual growth and
engaged discipleship—emphasizing radical hospitality, shared ministry, spiritual practices, and
solidarity with the poor and oppressed. With this focus, she has brought depth, health, and
growth to every community she has served. Ginger contributed to and served as a general editor
for The CEB Women’s Bible (Abingdon, October 2016). Her book, Sacred Resistance: A Practical
Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent, was released in May 2018. Ginger is a sought-after
preacher, teacher, and facilitator at local, regional, and international events.
She enjoys gardening, yoga, poetry, art, ice cream, travel, hiking, and is married to Dr. Anthony T. Gaines Cirelli, a Catholic theologian, currently serving the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a Director in their Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs office. The Gaines-Cirellis live in Washington, DC with their Persian cat Annie Rose & Clumber Spaniels Harvey and Daisy.
Connect with Pastor Ginger
How should persons of faith respond when government officials and political leaders behave in ways that contradict values long espoused by Christian tradition? How should churches respond? Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent provides thoughtful guidance for those pondering their answers to those questions.
“Humble, Strong, Sure”
A reflection preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli with Foundry UMC, October 3, 2021, the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. “Prepare the Table with Justice and Joy” series. World Communion Sunday.
Texts: Psalm 23:1a, Mark 10:13-16
“The Lord is my shepherd.” These five words hold so much. Because the Lord, our shepherd, holds you and me and the whole world.
An image comes to mind from my travels to the Holy Land at the beginning of 2020. It is of a young Bedouin boy, his arms filled with just one sheep. As our group traveled around Israel and Palestine, it was powerful to see the Bedouin shepherds with their flocks on what looked like mostly dry, rocky hills. The images of the 23rd Psalm took on new meaning the more I observed the landscapes from which that Psalm emerged. Much of the terrain is dangerous, weather unpredictable, water and food sources hidden or scarce, predators always around. Shepherding can be dirty work, dangerous work, exhausting work, lonely work.
The ancestors of the Hebrew people were all nomadic, moving with their flocks to find sustenance, sometimes in the broad, green valley of places like the Galilee, and in times of drought, further afield. And that memory persists in the spiritual imagination of the tribes of Israel, the memory of the shepherd doing whatever was needed to tenderly care for and protect each little lamb. Our spiritual ancestors imagined God not as a king, but as a humble shepherd. Rabbi Harold Kushner writes, “To say ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ is to say that we live in an unpredictable, often terrifying world…But despite it all, we can get up every morning to face that world because we know that there is Someone in that world who cares about us and tries to keep us safe.” //
It is a primal thing, the yearning for someone to make us feel safe in a dangerous world and cared for in what can be an everyone’s-too-busy-to-care, impersonal world. We humans try to get those needs met in all kinds of ways, some of them healthy and others, not so much. Even the best humans at some point along the way will hurt, disappoint, or not be present with us when we need them. But what we are offered in our faith tradition is assurance that the Lord, our shepherd, is present with us every single moment of every single day of our lives—and present with patience, compassion, mercy, and love, no matter what mess we may have made of things. The good shepherd is always with us trying to protect us and lead us to the things that nourish, sustain, and bless our lives.
A good shepherd also seeks out those who are in dangerous places, the wounded ones, the ones who’ve been led astray. It doesn’t matter how or why they are where they are, the shepherd still cares, will find them, and attend to their needs. Each and every sheep is cared for; all are loved and worthy to be scooped up and held. Jesus modeled this with the little children whom others would have ignored or excluded.
When we are safe and secure, we may forget. But when we find ourselves wounded or lost or being pushed aside or excluded, the promise is that God will remember us and draw near to help. We will be among those enfolded and held in the shepherd’s humble, strong, sure arms.
A day ago, I noticed that a colleague with whom I went to seminary, Rev. Otis Moss, III of Trinity UCC in Chicago, is starting a new sermon series entitled “I am Not Okay.” It struck me in a deep place as resonant with my own thoughts of late. A couple of weeks ago, in my midweek “Ponderings” on Facebook, I shared reminders about how our current experience of prolonged struggle of various kinds through the pandemics of 2020 and 2021 are taking a toll on every one of us. The stress and confusion and isolation is landing on our bodies and souls in some kind of way. And we may forget that how we feel or react in any given moment right now is likely affected by this larger reality. We may forget—because it’s been going on so long—that human systems are not MADE to sustain these levels of uncertainty, danger, and trauma for such long periods of time. My message was a simple reminder that it’s OK to not be OK and an encouragement to be gentle with ourselves. We need to remain aware of the context we’re in and be mindful of how we’re reacting to things. Because I don’t think anyone is really OK right now; I don’t think we’re “fine.”
The new series we begin today, is a journey through the 23rd Psalm. Every week through November 21st, the sermon will take a line from the Psalm as the focus for study and reflection. We will have opportunities to reflect on the ways God has brought us this far through these challenging years and to commit our support for what God will do in and through Foundry in 2022 to help us care for others as God has cared for us, to prepare the table for others as God has prepared the table for us.
We begin with the simple, profound assurance that the Lord is our shepherd. We will discover as we journey together through our study of Psalm 23, that its primary message is not that we’ll be free from the experience of pain or loss or difficulties in our lives. But rather that we will not have to experience anything in our lives alone. Because, as John Wesley affirmed in his dying breath, “Best of all, God is with us.”
The Psalmist wrote from a deeply personal place of relationship with God. But let’s be very clear. This Lord is not just “my” shepherd or your shepherd or Christians’ shepherd or Jews’ shepherd. The Lord is our shepherd and the shepherd of all. God has the whole beautiful, broken world in God’s hands. As we prepare to gather at the table God has prepared for us on this World Communion Sunday, I think about that Bedouin boy shepherd, arms full. I think about the Bedouin shepherds I observed, guiding their flocks through dangerous terrain to find sustenance, sometimes in unseen places. I imagine God as our shepherd, arms full with all the people in all the places all around the world gathered at the Communion table prepared by God. I think of all those who gather around different kinds of spiritual “tables.” I think about all who are suffering or lost, those whose suffering is hidden to others, those whom others ignore or devalue…I think of all these who are watched over and sought out by the Lord, our shepherd, who is determined that not one should be lost, that none will be excluded from the compassion, love, care, and grace of God.
As we draw near to the table God prepares for us, a table where we are nourished in forgiveness and in love, remember that at this table we are created and called to be the Body of Christ for the world, to follow in the way of the good shepherd who labors in love to tend for each and all. Today, I encourage you to really listen to the words of the Great Thanksgiving prayer. Let’s gather at the table today, with all God’s people everywhere, and truly give thanks for the bounty of love, mercy, and grace God has showered upon us all; let’s give thanks for the encouragement and nourishment to keep going; let’s give thanks for the grace to participate in God’s work of love and justice and compassion; let’s give thanks for the humble, strong, and sure presence of the Lord our shepherd.
Interfaith Conversation of Forgiveness moderated by David Gregory
Faith Leaders Hold DC Vigil to Call For Change
This Week on Day 1
"I don’t recognize my church." That’s what I said to myself while serving as a delegate of the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.
In her new book, “Sacred Resistance,” the senior pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., articulates how Christians can engage in the work of mending the world.
The language of “resistance” has a long history. For many it will call to mind those who’ve marched, stood on picket lines, participated in sit-ins, and put their bodies between trucks, tanks, and other people or cherished land. Used as a political term, resistance is generally understood as a kind of collective civil disobedience, focused on justice and human rights, and embodied in public actions like those just mentioned.
When so many causes, crises, and critical needs demand our attention, how can a congregation decide where to engage? Pastor and author Ginger Gaines-Cirelli outlines key questions and concerns in discerning a faithful and sustainable response to public issues.
While it is still dark, Easter happens. Because if the message is that Easter only happens in the light, when we feel strong and certain, when suffering and death hasn’t touched our lives, when the powers of empire have been defeated and justice is consistently done — if that’s the only context where Easter happens, then our celebration of Easter would be a farce.
“It’s poor religion that can’t provide a sufficient curse when needed.” Wendell Berry said that.
Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, author of Sacred Resistance, says it’s up to preachers to address the pain, injustice, confusion, and chaos in our days even when it is risky, and she offers guidance on approaching controversial issues in meaningful and responsible ways.
Nearly ten years ago at a dinner in New York City, I was stunned when someone at my table declared clearly that there is really no point in dialogue or relationship with those whose beliefs will not be conformed to your own.
Beth Bingham began to see Hagar of the Old Testament in a new way after studying The
Suddenly she wasn’t just the servant who bore Abraham a child when his wife Sarah couldn’t. She was, essentially, the Bible’s first single mom — one who had to leave the house because tensions were so high.
Bingham, a student at Virginia Theological Seminary, couldn’t wait to bring The CEB (Common English Bible) Women’s Bible and share her Hagar insight with the female inmates she studies Scripture with twice a month.
"I’m not sure how I feel about living in this city,” said a theologically trained young adult with a passion for social justice. As a relative newcomer to Washington, DC, he shared, “It seems that Washington attracts folks who care a lot about power and what it takes to get it.”
“Why should I add another Bible to my shelf?” This good-natured question has emerged often these past months as folks have learned that I served as an editor for the new CEB Women’s Bible.
It’s clear almost instantly that Abingdon Press’s newest Bible isn’t the kind of Christian women’s fare that focuses heavily on Proverbs 31 and lightly on indignities around gender.
The CEB Women’s Bible is a specialty edition of the Common English Bible, sold and distributed by Abingdon Press, part of United Methodist Publishing House. As a contributing editor, Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli shares, “I think the vast, inclusive number of women’s voices that we have represented in the writings is beautiful and wonderful.” All five editors are women, as are all 80 of the commentary contributors. The team includes mainly seminary professors and pastors, but also Christian novelists and a rabbi.
Growing up in a small town, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli ’96 M.Div. saw the wounds caused by poverty and segregation. Growing up United Methodist, she saw the urgency of connecting personal piety and social action.